See how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony! 
It is like fine scented oil... 

(Psalm 133:1-2)

Chelva, Spain - August  2017

I left Mervue at two in the morning, driving to Dublin for my flight to Spain and a beautiful drive it was with a crescent moon low on the horizon for most of the journey. It’s been a month of moons and awesome skies, those of Inis Mor in Aran being among the most beautiful. There the sight of the moon brought me to my feet, causing me to say out loud “Oh my God!” A true prayer of wonder.

I'm surprised by how lovely and clean everything is in Madrid - airport, trains, Atocha station. It's the day after the Barcelona terror attack but the atmosphere is relaxed with remarkably few armed soldiers in evidence. The flag over the station flies at half mast. I think about the dead, the injured - and pray.

By the time I get to my destination in Chelva at 8.00 pm I’m well and truly exhausted! At the bus station in Valencia I had to sit down on the foot path and let people walk over me. It was hot at 34 degrees and my heart was racing. For good or ill I have this app on my phone that measures heartbeat among other things. In Valencia my heart was going at a rate of 118bpm!!!

But Chelva calmed my racing heart and refreshed my travel weariness, so much so that I stayed up until 1.00am. That was 22 hours awake!

Of course it’s not Chelva itself that brought such tranquillity, though it is a beautiful place. The tranquillity came from my companions – Mark & Becky with their son Caleb and of course Brend. It’s two years since all of us were together and it’s one of life’s most precious gifts that when we meet it’s like we were never parted.

I marvel at what we have together, how God brought us together in the first place, how after a day of sorrow I caught up with these three who were a day ahead of me on the Camino. We ought not to have met but we did. They are for me like the Holy Visitors who came to Abraham and Sarah with the promise of a son.

We talk for hours about everything and, though we belong to different churches, different religious experiences, we are able to share so naturally on a faith level in a way that I do not experience with any other group of people.  Mark calls them late night soul conversations and that is what they truly are.

We talked late into the night, into the morning sitting outside like everyone does in Chelva. People bring chairs out into the narrow streets and sit there chatting while children run and play into the night. It was a delightful and exciting thing for three year old Caleb.

Our love for each other is expressed very openly in word and gesture, an aspect of our relationship that flows from both Mark and Becky especially. I think Brend and I are naturally more reserved in that regard but we also surrendered gladly and gracefully.

We get to the heart of everything, a faith that is of the heart, compassionate, passionate, flowing from the heart of Jesus himself, our love for Him. Our own hearts too are opened in each other’s presence – the joy, the love and the pain. My own wounds emerge too, even though I had decided to leave them behind but they demanded their own space and recognition in the context of our shared love. Not just my wounds but each of our wounds.

And Brend has the knack of turning wounds into joy, making me laugh over something that was previously unlaughable (if there’s such a word)! Letting God turn it to good, to the good of Love. Mark feels that the heart should remain completely open, even to our enemies. And that challenges me.

Our conversations also take us beyond ourselves. It was Brend who said that we have to in some way spread the love and peace we experience together, challenging each other to be apostles, missionaries.  Mark quoted Isaiah 6 – God’s question, “Who will go for us?” and the disciple’s response, “Here I am, send me!”

It’s interesting that this very text came up in the Divine Office next day and it is also the Word that came to me when I felt the calling to Hastings. It’s the text that’s quoted on the Barbara Dunne’s painting of St. Anne’s church in Shankill, a painting done especially for me! So the Word of God is alive and active in us.

Mark and Becky have a very strong sense of justice and feel they ought to be out there among those most in need. I believe that God has placed that as a calling within them and that He who has called them will do it for He is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

One part of our sharing is to speak of the highlights, the  positive experiences we’ve had over the past couple of years and for which we are grateful. Always grateful together. Always hopeful. 

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